Fair funding for colleges will help more young people and adults, as well as businesses, get the skills they need. And we know that skills is very much on the Government agenda at the moment as our country faces widening skills shortages, even before the probable Brexit impact.
The recent Industrial Strategy highlighted how decades of under-investment leave us with regional disparities, business struggling to recruit and young people supported for only 17 hours a week compared with 30 in Shanghai. Colleges are on the front-line of that under-investment, as well as being critical to delivering the solutions.
But for colleges to deliver, the Government and employers need to invest. Overall, the Government now spends around 4.3% of GDP on educational and skills – we suggest 5% would bring us closer to competitor countries.
Achieving that level of funding would allow more investment into technical and professional education and training and put right the drop of funding for 16 to 18-year-olds compared 5 to 16-year-olds. A drop of more than £1,000 at a crucial time for young people when they are preparing for the workplace or higher education is not acceptable.
But it’s not just young people that are affected. In the past seven or eight years adult education funding has been decimated. In 2015 alone, funding was cut by 24%, so it was a relief that the Government gave some stability for this and the next two years. But if we want to provide adults with proper opportunities to improve their existing skills, learn new ones or retrain for a new job, there must be a renewed focus on access to the relevant education and training.
What colleges also need is stability in funding, rules, regulations and policies. Addressing the skills needs of the country requires long-term plans and proper investment – both need some stability and certainty. Local government and transport budgets can be set three years in advance so why is the same not done for further education? A stable financial situation will allow colleges to plan ahead and offer more, better education and training opportunities.
We are also looking for more investment in the further education workforce – the people who really do deliver the learning and skills. They need chances to update their skills, keep in touch with learning technology and stay relevant to current employment and industry practices. One urgent issue is the need for a major drive to double the number of maths teachers by 2030. The growing number of young people needing to resit GCSE maths is growing and this means more teachers.
Our fair funding for colleges campaign aims to help the UK cope with Brexit and give every citizen better life chances. I am confident that the Chancellor will address skills issues in the Spring Budget next month. Not to do so would risk young people and adults in further education being short-changed.
* AoC is asking colleges across the country to make it clear to their local MP before 8 March that they want the Government to invest more. You can also tweet using the hashtag #fairfundingforcolleges
* AoC has made 16 recommendations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer ahead of the Spring Budget. Full details are available at www.aoc.co.uk/spring-budget-2017-recommendations
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC)